Issue 215 - SafetyNet Journal 215Welcome to the latest edition of SafetyNet - another bumper issue, with lots of information on what's going on in health and safety.
During the period the journal was not being produced, there were two fatalities in Victoria – on May 8 an 18-yr old farm worker was killed on an almond plantation near Nangiloc when the four wheeled farm utility vehicle she was riding tipped onto its side while turning. This had been the fourth regional workplace death in less than a month.
The second fatality occurred on May 19, when a 54-yr old worker died at Nufarm Chemicals in Laverton North after being exposed to phenol while working on a pipe. Ambulance paramedics had to treat five other people on site for exposure. Following an investigation, WorkSafe issued the company with a number of notices requiring it to take immediate action, including implementing a Permit to Work system to ensure the risks associated with particular tasks are adequately identified and controlled.
Great news: WorkSafe re-funds OHS Reps @ Work website
The VTHC received confirmation this week from WorkSafe that our application for a further two years' funding for the OHSReps@Work website has been granted. Thanks to all those website users and SafetyNet subscribers who responded to our requests for comments, which were used to support our application.
The coming two years will be busy ones for the staff here, with much of the information on the website needing to be re-written as the new OHS harmonised Act, Regulations and Codes are implemented. Once the majority of the material is updated, we will be asking users to alert us to any pages we may inadvertently miss.
ACTU Working Australia CensusThe Working Australia Census is an initiative of the Australian Council of Trade Unions to gather accurate information about what it's like to be an Australian worker in the 21st century. The survey covers a number of key concerns for working people in Australia:
- Job security
- Cost of living
- Work/life balance
- The role of unions
Have you participated yet? If not, go to the Working Australia Census website and do the survey right now, and join the tens of thousands of people speaking up for working Australia. And by participating, you could win $1000. ACTU Media Release
Australian workers want better work-life balance
A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey, the Australian Social Trends June 2011 [pdf] has concluded that government efforts over the past 20 years to reduce the rate of workplace injuries and fatalities and raise awareness of OHS have led to increased rates of OHS training and some decrease in notified injuries and deaths, but that much more work needed to be done to reach 'targets'. There has been a decrease of 10 per cent in work-related deaths in the five years to 2007/08 (134), with a spike in 2008/09 (151). The number dropped again in 2009/10 to 111. Work-related injuries dropped from a rate of 64 per 1000 workers to 53 per 1000 in the five years to 2010, but stressed employees continue to take more time off.
Data from the survey also revealed that Australian workers who would prefer to work fewer hours each week are more likely than other workers to always feel rushed and to feel that their work/life is rarely, if ever, in balance. Many of the workers who want more time off for recreation and social activities rather than to meet family responsibilities. According to the survey, in 2007, one in five workers (approx 2.2 million) were overemployed; most were full time (89 per cent), partnered (77 per cent) and either managers or professionals (52 per cent). Of the other workers surveyed, about 65% felt they were working close to their preferred hours, while 1.4 million (14 per cent) would have preferred to work longer hours.
Source: Workplace Express; OHSAlert
The OHS Act refers to penalties in terms of 'penalty units'. Can you tell me how much a penalty unit is worth?
This is a very short and quick answer! The value of penalty units increases from time to time, usually at the beginning of the financial year. As of July 1, 2011, a penalty unit in Victoria is worth $122.14
We haven't been getting many queries coming in lately – so remember, if you have any OHS related queries or questions, send in an email through the Ask Renata function on the website . You'll get an answer within a couple working days at the latest.
James Hardie Industries cuts company asbestos fund
In news which came out early last month, James Hardie announced that the company will be cutting its contribution to its asbestos fund in 2012 due to a big tax charge. The fund, established after a long legal battle in Australia, compensates people exposed to asbestos through Hardie's products and who are now suffering from malignant mesothelioma and other serious asbestos induced illnesses. A tax bill of $32.6 million will reduce Hardie's contribution to the Asbestos Injury Compensation Fund (AICF) by as much as $11.4 million next year. Under court orders, Hardie is obliged to pay 35 per cent of net operating cash flow into the AICF, yet the company missed its July 2009 payment also because of an adverse tax ruling. Although it would seem unacceptable, the fund does allow the company to make less payment into the fund if there are any big expenses or tax losses that impact net operating cashflow. The economic crisis has severely affected the US residential market, Hardie's main operating market, contributing to lower revenue. Read more: Mesothelioma News
Canada, others block asbestos from UN hazardous list
Australia, Chile and the European Union (EU) were among countries seeking the inclusion of chrysotile on the 2004 Rotterdam treaty's trade "watch list" of chemicals and severely hazardous pesticides which exporters must share information on, the Prior Informed Consent list. The BWI and the Global Unions also issued a Statement on Chrysotile [pdf] at the Rotterdam Convention meeting (June 20 – 24) which called on all parties to urgently support the listing of chrysotile asbestos on the list. However, after countries including Canada and Ukraine blocked consensus, it will not be listed as a hazardous industrial chemical that can be banned from import. The decision, taken at a meeting of states that have ratified the Rotterdam Convention, was taken despite the treaty's scientific review body having recommended the inclusion of "white" asbestos on health grounds, and despite even those countries accepting the science was correct. The chemical will now come up for consideration at the next meeting in 2013. However, the majority of parties issued a statement following the meeting resolving to move forward the listing of chrysotile pursuing further action.
Meanwhile, endosulfan, a pesticide banned in many states but still used in many tropical countries, and two other pesticides, alachlor and aldicarb, were added by consensus, bringing the number of substances on the list to 43.
Read more: Canada and others block Asbestos ; BWI and Global Union Statement on Chrysotile [pdf] ; Post meeting statement, see Ban Asbestos Network India
Italy: asbestos bosses' trial drawing to an end
Either due to a quirk of fate or extremely clever corporate manoeuvring, the Swiss and Belgian Eternit companies had escaped their asbestos pasts largely unscathed – until a class action launched in Italy last year against former executives. At the fiftieth day mark of the trial, prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello is demanding twenty years in prison for the former 'top dogs' of the company: Belgian Baron Louis de Cartier and Stephan Schmidheiny. They are facing criminal charges relating to the asbestos-related deaths of 1,500+ Italians who were occupationally or environmentally exposed to Eternit asbestos through the four Internit Italian plants at Cavagnolo, Casale Monferrato, Rubiera in Reggio Emilia and Bagnoli, in Campagna. Asbestos continues to claim victims. "I had never seen such a tragedy.... It has affected several regions in our country, employees and residents. It is still sowing death and who knows how much longer it will continue to do so," Guariniello said. "(It is) a tragedy that was brought about under a single director in Italy and in other countries around the world, and for which no court has ever called to account those responsible for the enormous damage it has caused." The prosecutor also requested three additional penalties: prohibition from holding public office, inability to hold contracts with the government for three years and disqualification from the directorship of the company for 10 years.
Source: La Reppublica
Firefighters compensation bill progresses
As reported in SafetyNet 214, Green's MP Adam Bandt introduced a bill into Federal Parliament to make it easier for firefighters who contract cancer to access workers compensation. The bill has been co-sponsored by backbenchers from both the major parties. Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou says studies clearly show firefighting increases the risk of cancer. "While we all very often acknowledge the life-saving work of our firefighters in this place and we've done it on many occasions, we also need to acknowledge the human cost that their profession bears on their health and wellbeing as well as the cost to their families," she said.
Liberal MP Russell Broadbent says he hopes everyone in Parliament votes for the bill. "This is about firefighters, their future and what they do for us and this Parliament rising above all other concerns to address the issue that is faced by a very specialised group in our community," he said.
Source: ABC Online
Vic Police: high risk of stress and injury
WorkSafe compensation figures this week revealed that Victorian police made almost 3700 claims in the past five years – higher than the general community and many other public sector workers. More than half of the cases were due to serious workplace injuries resulting from manual handling, restraining persons, slips, trips and falls; more than a quarter were due to work-related stress; and 13 per cent were the result of fractures, contusions and open wounds.
In responding to the higher levels of stress suffered by his members, Police Association secretary Greg Davies told The Age, that it was 'inevitable given Victoria had long had the lowest funded force of any state, leaving may officers struggling on the front lines'. He said, "Our figures show that 10 per cent of the workforce are off on injuries at any one time – that's a hell of a lot of people."
Source: The Age
AWU Guard it or Ban it campaign
The Australian Workers' Union has announced it is putting every employer in Victoria on notice: its Guard it or Ban It campaign is being stepped up after the latest tragic incident at Geelong on July 4. It is understood a worker at fertiliser-maker Incitec Pivot was left dangling mid-air for up to 45 minutes, after his arm became caught in an unguarded conveyor-belt. The worker was flown to a Melbourne hospital and put into an induced coma, but it was unclear whether his arm could be saved.
AWU Victorian Secretary Cesar Melhem called for the site to remain closed until a full safety audit and associated improvements have been completed. "This comes after the AWU has expressed ongoing safety concerns at this site," Cesar said. "Recently we had a team of people identify five unguarded machines that the company then isolated until they could be made safe; but this latest tragedy makes it clear that a shut-down and overall review of the plant is the only way workers will be protected."
MUA: win for worker safety
The Maritime Union Australia has achieved a landmark for worker safety by securing batch radiation testing by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) of imported Japanese cars on June 23. This outcome follows months of campaigning by the MUA to ensure Japanese cargo and cars were screened for radiation upon arrival in Australia. "This is a win for workers, and also a win for the Australian public," said Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith. "Any risk of radiation is too big a risk to take. Workers and consumers come into direct contact with these cars - the Government watchdog must ensure there is no health and safety risk.
In early May, cars arriving in Chile from Japan were found to be contaminated with radiation. Despite this, ARPANSA had refused to commit to scanning cargo, following long-running talks with Maritime Union officials. "We know from the tragedy in Japan that people are feeling the effects of radiation hundreds of kilometres away from the destroyed nuclear plant. We can't take the risk of contaminating workers," said Mr Smith when the agreement was reached. "All we have been asking is for cargo to be tested before being offloaded in Australia. .. We're pleased ARPANSA have recognized that this is an important health and safety issue, and will be screening the next batch of cars being imported from Japan The fact remains that we actually have no idea whether goods are contaminated or not." The MUA is working towards radiation screening for all Japanese cargo entering Australia.
Source: MUA Media Release
SDA appeal puts 90min shifts on hold
Further to last week's story of FWA's ruled in favour of the National Retail Association (NRA) application to vary the retail award to allow 90 min shifts for secondary school students, the union has appealed. In its appeal theSDA argued Vice President Watson had no material before him to satisfy him that any secondary school students had been unable to find work because of the minimum three-hour engagement provision of casual employees under the award. The union application also argued that VP Watson had erred in finding that the variation to the modern award was necessary to provide social inclusion for secondary school students, and in "failing to provide any adequate reasons" for the variation.
Retailer employers have fought a long battle against the three-hour minimum shifts in the modern award and are reported to be 'outraged' that FWA is allowing the appeal and the consequent delay.
Source: Workplace Express
Suspension of Tiger flights: OHS aspects
This week's news that Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority has suspended Tiger Airways Australian flights has a strong OHS aspect: several Tiger planes were shown to have flown well below the altitude safety limits. Under conditions imposed by CASA, Tiger must boost their pilots' proficiency, improve pilot training and checking processes, change how the company manages fatigue, improve maintenance control and ongoing airworthiness systems and ensure appropriately qualified people fill management and operational positions.
Source: The Age
International Union News
UK's TUC concern over sharp rise in deaths at work
There has been a dramatic upturn in the number of workplace fatalities in the UK, new official statistics show. Figures published last week by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal the number of workers killed in Britain in 2010/11 was over 16 per cent up on the previous year. The provisional data for the year April 2010 to March 2011 shows 171 workers died, compared to the record low of 147 in 2009/10. The fatality rate increased from 0.5 fatalities per 100,000 workers to 0.6/100,000. The UK's TUC general secretary Brendan Barber expressed concern at the reversal in the recent downward trend in workplace fatalities and stressed the need for official inspections and enforcement. 'The responsibility for the increase in deaths this year must be placed at the door of negligent employers, but more needs to be done to ensure that all employers protect their workers from harm,' he said. 'The government's recent decision to reduce workplace inspections and the budget cuts for both the HSE and local authorities make it more far less likely that problems will be identified before something goes wrong. Traditionally injury rates increase as we come out of a recession. If we are going to stop this year's increase becoming a long-term trend we need more inspections in the workplace - not less.'
The TUC is concerned that cuts at the HSE mean that worse is to come, and a number of individual unions, including the rail and public sector unions warn of reduced OHS protections.
European union body calls for nano registry
The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) has issued a proposal to establish a registry of nanomaterial-containing articles. The rationale for the initiative is that comprehensive data is needed to improve knowledge of what is on the market, who is exposed and what should be regulated. Some European Member States have developed their own initiatives but these are not harmonised.
Read more: Nano governance: how should the EU implement nanomaterial traceability? [pdf]
Unionisation and health & safety
A study examining the relationship between unionisation and underground, bituminous coal mine safety in the United States from 1993 to 2008 has found that unionisation predicted a substantial and significant decline in traumatic mining injuries and fatalities, which was especially pronounced among larger mines. Unionisation was associated with 17-33 per cent fewer traumatic injuries and 33-72 per cent fewer fatalities. However, unionisation was also associated with higher total and non-traumatic injuries, suggesting that injury reporting practices differ substantially between union and non-union mines. The author notes that unionisation's effect on reducing the frequency of traumatic injuries has increased since the mid 1990s.
Morantz A, Coal Mine Safety: Do Unions Make a Difference? Stanford Law and Economics Online Working Paper no. 413, Stanford School of Law, Stanford, United States, 2011.
Bowel cancer risks increase with sedentary work
A recent joint study by the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) and the University of WA has found that found that those working for 10 years or more behind a desk have an increased risk of bowel cancer. The two year study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was of men and women aged between 40 and 79 (a total of 918 cases and 1,021 controls) who participated in a population-based case-control study of bowel cancer in Western Australia. Jobs were categorised into five groups ranging from sedentary to light activity (teachers, hairdressers), medium (mechanics, nurses), heavy (plumbers, farmers) and very heavy (miners, firefighters). The estimated effects of sedentary work on the risk of cancers of the proximal colon, distal colon and rectum were analysed. Data was collected on lifestyle, physical activity and job history. Compared with employees who did not spend any time in a sedentary occupation, study participants who spent 10 or more years working at a desk had almost twice the risk of distal colon (the left side of the colon) cancer and a 44 percent increased risk of rectal (the final portion of the large intestine) cancer. The findings were independent of physical activity, and the increased risk was seen even among sedentary workers who did a lot of physical activity outside of the workplace. Terry Boyle, from the University of WA, said, "Sedentary behaviour appears to be an important risk factor for many chronic diseases. It's important that office workers try to stand and take a break from sitting every 30 minutes, and do things like get up from their chairs and walk down the corridor to talk to colleagues rather than sending an email or making a phone call."
Source: Science Alert , 16 May 2011
Working 40hrs+ increases burnout risk
Researchers from Spain's Aragon Institute of Health Sciences have written that those who work more than an eight-hour-day five days a week are six times more likely to suffer 'burnout syndrome'. Workers with the syndrome suffer emotional exhaustion, cynicism or lack of efficacy at work. Writing in the journal BMC Psychiatry, researcher Jesus Montero-Marin said that chronic workplace stress combined with a lack of recognition of their efforts by employers are two important factors, and that the condition could be divided into three sub-types - 'frenetic', 'under-challenged' and 'worn out'.
The frenetic profile was linked to the number of hours worked: those spending more than 40 hours a week at work six times more likely to burn out than those working fewer than 35. These workers were usually heavily involved in their workplace, ambitious and with a large taskload. The 'under challenged' were workers doing monotonous task, while the 'worn out' profile applied to those with a long history in the same job with a perceived lack of recognition.
Read more: Daily Mail Reporter
Low job control, long commute increases sickness absence
According to a three-year Australian study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, workers with high demand/low control jobs and those with long commuting times are likely to take longer, more frequent periods of sick leave. The research was based on information from the household, income and labour dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, provided by 2861 full-time employees between 2005 and 2008.
The researchers, from the University of Wollongong and the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute in NSW, said the link between low job control and sick leave could be due to increased risk of chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and mental health problems.
In terms of the link between long commuting times and increased sick leave, the authors suggested that this may be due to not only the stresses inherent in a lengthy journey and traffic congestion, but that the commuting may exacerbate the effects of job strain on health.
Those who worked long hours were less likely to take sick leave, however longer hours were associated with poorer mental and physical health. Furthermore, continuing to work despite suffering an illness or condition had a range of adverse long-term health effects (such as burnout), resulting in higher health care costs and lower productivity, the authors said.
Source: OHS Alert. Occupational Factors and Sick Leave in Australian Employees [abstract] . Christopher Magee, et al, Australia, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 6, June 2011.
Blitz on most dangerous industries
WorkSafe Victoria this week launched a state-wide blitz targeting the state's most dangerous industries. The campaign will focus on enforcement: potential prosecutions will be fast-tracked to send a clear message that unsafe work practices will not be tolerated. WorkSafe General Manager for Operations, Lisa Sturzenegger, said the hard-line approach would target eight industries which accounted for a quarter of all workplace claims in 2010.
There are 4000 visits planned to take place over the next year, targeting food manufacturing and processing, wood product manufacturing, fabricated metal, transport equipment manufacturing, plastics and rubber manufacturing, road transport, warehousing and storage and residential aged care services. WorkSafe Media Release
WorkSafe workshop: Return to Work
WorkSafe reminds employers they have a legal obligation to help injured people back to work and consider alternate duties or reduced hours during the recovery period. WorkSafe is running free workshops to help people responsible for helping injured workers return to work. The next one will be held in Melbourne's CBD on 7 July at WorkSafe's office at 222 Exhibition St from 2pm to 4pm and cover return to work compliance which will be a major part of WorkSafe's program over the next year. For bookings and to check where and when other network briefings will be held, go to the WorkSafe website. WorkSafe Media Release
Victorian Dangerous Goods Regulations Updated
Victoria has updated the legal requirements for the manufacture, storage, sale, import, transport and use of explosives, with the introduction of the Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2011. The new regulations came into effect on 26 June 2011. However, licence holders retain licences issued under the Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2000 until they expire.
According to WorkSafe, most of the requirements in the old regulations are the same as the new ones. However, there are some changes, which have been introduced to improve public safety and security and to clarify responsibilities so that the law is easier to understand.
There is a 12 month transitional period, which means that any lawful activity under the Dangerous Goods (Explosives) Regulations 2000 will remain lawful for 12 months after the new regulations come into effect.
Go to the WorkSafe website Explosives page to download a number of Information sheets explaining differences under the new regulations and a summary document.
The ACT last week became the fourth jurisdiction to introduce a model Work Health and Safety Bill to its Parliament. NSW, Queensland and South Australia have already done so. The Northern Territory Government is likely to introduce a Work Health and Safety Bill in August, Tasmania expects to do so in September or October, and a Bill for the Commonwealth jurisdiction is likely to be introduced in the coming weeks.
The timelines are unsure for both Victoria and Western Australia, but indications are that both are likely to introduce bills before September.
National fatality statistics
According to the latest figures from Safe Work Australia, there were 11 traumatic workplace deaths in January and eight in February this year. Burns, crushing, electrocution, falls, being hit by a falling or moving object, bitten by an animal and vehicle crash were the leading causes of death. Two deaths occurred in agriculture, forestry and fishing workplaces and two in the construction sector. In February, there were three deaths in South Australia, two in Tasmania, and one in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. Ninety-five people were recorded as having died in work-related incidents from July 1, 2010, to February 28, 2011. Agriculture, forestry and fishing workplaces and the construction sector each had 21 deaths, 17 people died in manufacturing workplaces and 11 people in the transport and storage sector during the eight-month period.
Safe Work Australia: Notified Fatalities Monthly Report February 2011
Comcare extends self-insurer licenses
Four national employers licensed as Comcare self-insurers under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988(SRC Act), have had their licences renewed or varied – BIS Industries Ltd, Reserve Bank of Australia, Optus Administration Pty Ltd and Visionstream Pty Ltd. A fifth employer, AAE Retail Pty Ltd, has been granted a licence.
More recently produced/updated material from WorkSafe Victoria
Assisting people who have fallen advice for organisations on eliminating or reducing the risks of workers assisting people after a fall.
Repositioning people in bed provides advice for organisations on eliminating or reducing the risks to workers while repositioning people in bed.
Transferring people from toileting and bathing advice for organisations on eliminating or reducing the risks to workers transferring people between different locations and heights while toileting or bathing.
Working in aged care provides employers and workers in aged care with an overview of safe work processes, environment and equipment.
Major Hazard Facilities Serious Incident Report for 2010 – provides information on serious incidents that occurred in Victorian Major Hazard Facilities in 2010.
From Workplace Health and Safety Queensland: Common locations of materials containing asbestos in a house [pdf] - a poster that raises awareness of materials that may contain asbestos for renovators and tradespersons involved in minor work for domestic buildings.
Charges against company director overturned
In a case with lessons for all company directors, a NSW Industrial Court has overturned a decision to dismiss charges against a company director who pleaded guilty to breaching the NSW OHS Act over a workplace death. The company, Dekorform, was earlier fined $125,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the duty of care over the same incident. Justice Frank Marks had not convicted the director, finding he was "remote" from Dekorform's day-to-day operations. He had no "executive employee" role at Dekorform, instead working as general manager of Parbury Pty Ltd, of which Dekorform was a subsidiary.
The appeal court bench of three judges overturned that decision, ruling the director's connection to the day-to-day operations was not relevant. The director had a duty of care to ensure machinery was safely operating at the plant, a duty he breached in the relevant incident, the bench found. Wayne Hogden, a longstanding employee and production manager of Dekorform, was fatally injured in 2006 after a medium density fibre (MDF) board he was manually feeding into a multi-blade circular ripsaw machine was rapidly ejected into his stomach. Anti-kickback fingers, which would have prevented the board being ejected at speed and had not been fitted to the machine, were found a few days after the incident under another machine within the company's premises.
Source: OHNews 929 (Inspector James v Paul, NSWIRC 82, 29/06/11)
India: New occupational lung disease identified
A new deadly occupational lung disease caused by inhaling plastic dust may have been discovered. Health experts in India have identified four workers at a single factory who developed a serious respiratory disease within a year of starting work. Dr Aruna Dewan, a toxicology expert, said the disease came to light after she examined 27-year-old Naina Gajjar. She was suffering from 'severe fibrosis along with pneumothorax'. After checking what the factory - Corel Pharma Chem's factory at Kadi, Mehsana - produced, Dr Dewan got in touch with the Vadodara-based People's Training and Research Centre (PTRC), a grassroots occupational health project. PTRC head Jagdish Patel said they visited Gajjar's home on 3 June 2011 and found her 'bed-ridden, frail.' She had difficulty speaking because she was breathless. The day labourer recalled being required to fill and stack bags of an unidentified powder for between 10 and 12 hours each day. PTRC believes the powder, used to make gel used in beauty and grooming products, is a polyacrylate. It began looking for other workers at the factory suffering from similar symptoms, and found three more. Another worker, Alka Thakor, had reportedly died of lung disease last year. One of the three surviving workers had already been diagnosed with an 'occupational lung disease'. There have been a series of occupational lung diseases unearthed relatively recently. In Spain, an outbreak of deadly Ardystil Syndrome affected textile workers exposed to chemicals. Two conditions have been identified in groups of US workers, 'flock workers' lung' and popcorn workers' lung.
Indian Express Source: Risks 521